Summer Term 2018 (5/28-8/24; Residence week: 7/16-20)
The Christian Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire, is still in many ways unknown to Western Christians. But it was the the heir of the Roman Empire, the matrix of the Creeds, the bulwark of Christian Europe, and sponsored a rich intellectual life. In this course, we will survey the history of the Byzantine Empire from Constantine to the schism with the West in 1054, concentrating especially on its theology and philosophy in relation to several key matters, including Biblical authority as perceived at the time, the practice of monasticism, the legacy of classical antiquity, and the renascent Western Empire. We will look at the history of the Eastern Christian disputes about faith and reason; the long history of the leitmotif of representation in the Eastern Empire, from its roots in the imperial cultus and propaganda to its more well known application in the Eastern doctrine and practice of iconodulia; the profound Byzantine concern with the question of the relation of unity and diversity, a theme which inspired both the Eastern development of the doctrine of God and also the Eastern conception of Empire. We will do this by reading a discussing a range of primary and secondary sources, engaging closely with current academic work in the field of Byzantine studies, but especially through close readings of selections from Maximos the Confessor’s Ambigua, which we will take as an exemplary text of Byzantine thought. Through this course, students will acquire a familiarity with a half of Christendom which, as the title of one of our secondary sources has it, is still in large measure “lost to the West.” But it always has been, and still very much is, a deep root of Eastern Europe and which, through Eastern Orthodoxy, remains an interlocutor of the Western Church.